Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti gave his first State of the City speech Thursday evening at the California Science Center.
Speaking before an invited audience that included his wife, parents and various city leaders, the mayor said he would not allow the Department of Water and Power to increase electricity or water rates in 2014.
"We can't ask you to pay more for your water and power when the DWP screws up your bill," Garcetti said. "The department must earn back your trust."
The utility last year introduced a new billing system that resulted in chaos for many business and residential customers who have had to endure inaccurate bills and long wait times on the phone when trying to resolve the problem.
The mayor also announced a new lane on the San Diego (405) Freeway will open next month – about five months ahead of schedule. Garcetti said he was able to move up the deadline by bringing in Nick Patsaouras, a former Metro board member.
"We did it through good management, and it didn't cost us a single extra dollar," Garcetti said.
Perhaps in a nod to critics who have commented on his low-key style of governing, Garcetti reiterated his back-to-basics approach, saying, "We're about getting results, not getting headlines."
The mayor will release his first budget on Monday. In his speech, Garcetti said that proposal would be a "down payment" on phasing out the gross receipts tax, also known as the city's business tax.
"Our plan will cut the top business tax rate over three years — the top rate that nearly half of businesses pay," he said.
Garcetti reiterated his support for connecting LAX with light rail, but did not specify how this would be accomplished or when the train would connect directly with the airport.
The mayor also said the L.A. Fire Department will get a major technological upgrade. Beginning July 1, fire trucks will be equipped with GPS systems so firefighters will no longer need paper maps to arrive at emergency scenes. And calls made to 911 will be routed to a joint police-fire system that will no longer require transfers from one agency to another.
The mayor's State of the City speech came one day after the 2020 Commission convened by council president Herb Wesson released 13 recommendations to bring the city's fiscal house in order. Garcetti did not address the commission specifically in his remarks, but did appear to take a swipe at the findings.
"The challenges we face are not new," he said. "We don't need a new diagnosis."
See excerpts from the mayor's speech below:
"Today, I stand before you to say that the state of our city is strong, but it needs fundamental work.
"In a competitive global economy, Los Angeles cannot afford to keep relying on sunshine alone.
"The challenges we face are not new. We don't need a new diagnosis.
"Since my first day as your mayor, I've been focused on a new approach to governing. It is time for a new mayor to build a modern city government focused on four cornerstones: a well-run government, a strong economy, a high quality of life, and public safety.
"My goal is nothing less than making Los Angeles the safest, most prosperous, most livable, and best-run big city in America.
"That’s what back to basics is all about."
"It starts at the top, and that’s why on my first day as your mayor, I required every general manager to reapply for his or her job, which had never happened before. And for the first time, they will also undergo annual performance reviews."
"In my first month in office, I began my administration with a fair but tough new DWP employee contract that reformed pensions and froze salaries.
"And I hired the very best to lead the department -- Marcie Edwards, who came up through the DWP ranks and broke seven glass ceilings to become general manager. I directed her to take a hard look at DWP's rates and bring reform. Look, we can’t ask you to pay more for your water and power when the DWP screws up your bill.
"So I will not allow the DWP to raise rates this year. The department must earn back your trust."
"I said during my inauguration that the focus of my first year in office would be a City Hall that works again, and an L.A. economy that works again....
"Simply put, you shouldn’t need a lobbyist to open a business in L.A....
"When one of Southern California’s biggest companies, DIRECTV, announced they would create their own television shows, I called them up and put our team to work.
"And while Georgia and New Mexico tried to woo these productions with tax breaks and other incentives, I can announce today that next month, DIRECTV will begin filming two new series, “Navy Street” and “Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight,” right here in Los Angeles.
"We also brought to L.A. the new series 'Battle Creek,' which was originally set to film in Connecticut....
"No more bureaucratic delays.
"Too often, we put the burden on you--get in your car, drive downtown in traffic, and navigate our bureaucracy at your own peril. It’s time to move City Hall into the 21st Century.
"This is why my Sunny Skies solar program will go live this year, allowing residential permitting of solar systems on-line … no more trips to City Hall, no more waiting on the phone ... Instead, we’re building more solar power, and more green jobs.
"This is why we are digitizing 12 million records for 1.1 million buildings in Los Angeles this year, which will be available on-line, 24/7, free of charge. This means projects will move more quickly and more people will find good jobs.
"I’m changing our culture so that our employees focus on creating jobs, not enforcing bureaucracy, as the critical measure of their success....
"Unfortunately, our city is still home to the highest and most complicated business tax of any of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County. It’s a tax that taxes you even when you lose money--this chases new businesses away and pushes existing businesses to leave.
"We must phase out the business tax entirely.
"Next week, I will introduce legislation as part of this year’s budget that will be our first down-payment toward this goal. Our plan will cut the top business tax rate over 3 years -- the top rate that nearly half of businesses pay.
"We have failed to train tomorrow’s workforce here in our own neighborhoods.
"I will change that.
"And first of all, I believe the responsibility for educating our children does not rest solely with our schools.
"That’s why my first press conference as mayor was to announce a doubling of our Summer Youth Jobs Program that together with Summer Night Lights and our new Summer of Learning will comprise our “Summer of Success” initiative, the city’s most ambitious youth education and skills training effort in a generation.
"Instead of students falling behind over the summer, our Summer of Success will help L.A.’s youth leap ahead, with classes, jobs, and safe places to grow and expand their horizons.
"Summer Youth Jobs will provide at least 10,000 jobs for youth from some of our toughest neighborhoods.
"The Summer of Learning will provide thousands of Angelenos with skills-based classes, earning digital badges that the city will keep online in your own personal resume that you can share with your teachers, future employers, or future institutions of higher learning.
"And Summer Night Lights will continue to provide safe places for youth to engage in productive activities each evening during our traditionally most dangerous hours."
"My third priority is a high quality of life. And where does it begin? The simple answer: it begins where you live, in your neighborhood, on your main street.
"That’s the point of my “Great Streets” initiative.
"Here’s how it works. We’ll saturate your street with services. We’ll make your street accessible to pedestrians, wheelchairs, strollers and bicycles--not just cars.
"We’ll create an environment where new neighborhood businesses can flourish. We’ll pave the streets and make them green streets -- clean and lush with plant life, local art, and people-focused plazas.
"I know this works because I did it in my old council district -- in Atwater Village, Echo Park, Silver Lake, and Hollywood.
"Focused improvements attract new cafes, help local businesses expand, and give people a great place to gather without getting in their car.
"I’m pleased to announce today that the first 15 Great Streets will begin to roll out this spring.
"On Reseda Boulevard next to Cal State Northridge, we’re going to create a place for town and gown to come together.
"On Gaffey Street in San Pedro, were going to join forces with its burgeoning creative community.
"We are going to bring back the glory days on our storied Crenshaw, Westwood, Figueroa and Van Nuys Boulevards.
"These Great Streets will be the standard-bearers of a revitalized city, one main street at a time."
"Let me be clear: we are going to bring rail to LAX and we will settle for nothing less."
"It starts with modern technology. I’m announcing today that by July 1st, we will have for the first time GPS trackers in every fire rig so the closest unit is sent to an emergency call, because seconds count when lives are on the line.
"Last week, working with Councilmember Mitch Englander, we launched FIRESTAT, a new system modeled on the successes of COMPSTAT at the LAPD, allowing fire captains to see real-time data on response times. And those response times will be online for the public to see by next spring.
"Something most people don’t know is that when you call 911, the police department always answers the phone. So if you have a fire or medical emergency you have to get transferred. That costs time, money and even lives.
"Now, we are going to bring common sense to our dispatch system. I have ordered the creation of a combined 911 dispatch center for police and fire calls.
"And for the first time in five years, we are hiring firefighters and we are going to keep hiring this coming year. At the same time, I’m reforming our hiring practices to ensure we have the very best firefighters and the fairest system in place."
"Leading up to the twenty-year anniversary of the Northridge earthquake, I launched an historic partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey to bring Dr. Lucy Jones into my administration, to make sure L.A. Is truly prepared for the big one.
"Today, I’m proud to announce that with Dr. Jones’ expertise, we are developing the first rating system in the United States to detail the earthquake safety of our buildings.
"But we won’t stop with that game-changer. My charge to Dr. Jones is to help us create plans to mandate that our older buildings are retrofitted, and to protect our water and communications infrastructure.
"Some critics say the cost of those upgrades may be high. But as we saw with Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, the cost of being unprepared is much higher."
"We’re about getting results, not getting headlines.
"My first day in office, one of the most frustrating challenges that landed on my desk was the ongoing construction along the San Diego freeway...
"So I took charge...I quietly called an old friend, Nick Patsaouras, and asked him to volunteer his time and talents, and together we dug in.
"We were told that the new lane on the 405 wouldn’t open before October 2014 at the earliest, possibly even the beginning of 2015.
"But we pushed, prodded, and built a new pathway forward.
"So today, I’m proud to announce that the new lane on the 405 freeway will open not in October, but next month. And we did it through good management, and it didn’t cost us a dollar extra."